Two-thirds of public universities, including Iowa State, have unconstitutional speech codes, said Adam Kissel, vice president of programs for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Kissel presented free speech violations at college campuses throughout the country and highlighted issues within Iowa State policies that restrict university members' freedom of speech.
The most restricting policies at Iowa State are the discrimination and harassment policies, Kissel said. Specifically, Kissel focused on the examples list of this policy that is included in the policy.
"Harassment may include, but is not limited to, threats, physical contact or violence, pranks, jokes, epithets, derogatory comments, vandalism, or verbal, graphic, or written conduct directed at an individual or individuals because of their race, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or U.S. veteran status," the policy states.
"So here's the thing with the examples list: Anything that you do or say can be called harassment if you do it severely and pervasively enough," Kissel said, proceeding with an example of how simply calling someone enough times after being asked not to can be deemed harassment.
Kissel specified that under Iowa State's policy, anyone who has ever told a joke about race, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or U.S. veteran status, has violated the university's harassment policy.
This policy also states that sexual harassment "can range from unwelcome sexual flirtations and inappropriate put-downs of individual persons or classes of people, to serious physical abuses such as sexual assault."
"How do you know it's unwelcome until you try?" Kissel asked. "The first time you unwelcomely flirt with someone it's not harassment. If they tell you to cool it and you keep sticking around ... it's become a little bit more pervasive, it's not really all that severe, necessarily."
The presence of free speech zones on campus received a yellow light rating, meaning that they could ban or excessively regulate protected speech, according to FIRE's website. The reasoning behind this rating is the aspect of the policy that requires people to provide notice ahead of time if they want to exercise free speech.
"You don't need special permission to exercise free speech somewhere on campus whether you're in or outside the free speech zone," Kissel said. "The message of a free speech zone is that most of the campus is a censorship zone and so if you really want to express your opinions and your views go off to this part of campus where a small group of people will have the chance to be free. Don't wander around too much. So the idea of free speech zones is an insulting problem in that [Iowa State] doesn't do a great job here in the actual policy."
The university's Internet-usage policy also received a yellow light for two prohibitions. The first prohibits sending unsolicited emails to "individuals who did not specifically request such material, except as approved under the Mass E-Mail Policy and Effective Electronic Communication," and the second prohibits "engaging in harassment via email, telephone, or paging, whether through language, frequency or size of messages."
Kissel encouraged students to know their rights and exercise the defense them.
"I thought it was really cool how he was protecting us by informing us," said Cameron Perry, junior in pre-graphic design. "A lot of people just accept rules ... but depending on which school you go to they could protect your rights more or less. It's definitely important to have these sorts of talks and to have somebody that's good at articulating about it."